What is the ‘Great Replacement’ theory and the role it played in the Buffalo shooting?

·2 min read
Derek Gee/AP

A gunman clad in military gear opened fire on employees and shoppers at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York killing 10 people and wounding three others during the attack.

Officials were quick to categorize the shooting as a racially-motivated hate crime. The suspect, Payton Gendron, an 18-year-old white male, traveled nearly three hours to the supermarket located in a predominantly Black neighborhood.

A majority of those killed or injured in the shooting — 11 out of 13 — were Black. And according to NBC News, a document being circulated online describes in detail the gunman’s plan to harm people on the basis of their race, ethnicity or religion.

The writings -- allegedly posted by Gendron -- are suggested to be inspired in part by the “Great Replacement” theory.

What is the Great Replacement theory?

The “Great Replacement” is most popular among extremist groups, according to The Counter Extremism Project, a nonprofit and non-partisan organization that studies extremist ideologies.

The conspiracy theory suggests that non-white people are being planted into the United States in order to diminish or “replace” the white voting population to carry out a political agenda.

“Violent white nationalists believe they are ensuring the survival of their own race through violence against other ethnicities,” CEP states on its website.

The theory has inspired other acts of violence

The gunman’s alleged manifesto displays a troubling resemblance to writings published by the Christchurch shooter who killed 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand in 2019. The title of the Christchurch shooter’s nearly 80-page manifesto reportedly draws inspiration from the “Great Replacement” theory.

Months after the shooting, another attack took place in a Walmart located in El Paso, Texas, where 21 people were killed. The shooter reportedly was also inspired by the conspiracy theory and allegedly believed there was a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

Replacement theory presents risks to ethnic groups, Rock Hill professor says

Adolphus Belk Jr., professor of political science and African American studies at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, told NPR that white nationalist movements, including those inspired by replacement theory, come about because white supremacists see people of color as a threat.

Belk explained that extremists’ dedication to the conspiracy theory poses a great risk to marginalized ethnic groups.

“They are willing to use any means that are available to preserve and defend their position in society,” Belk told NPR. “It’s almost like a sort of holy war, a conflict, where they see themselves as taking the action directly to the offending culture and people by eliminating them.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigations is currently investigating the Buffalo shooting as a racially motivated hate crime.

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